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The 7 Biggest Psychological Risks for Professional Athletes

Posted by Matt Gonzales

Oct 18, 2018, 9:30:00 AM

The 7 Biggest Psychological Risks for Professional Athletes

The 7 Biggest Psychological Risks for Professional Athletes


Many professional athletes live enviable lives. The most successful athletes in the world make millions of dollars, live in extravagant homes, drive expensive vehicles and are adored by countless fans. Plus, they play a sport for a living.

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However, being a pro athlete can be difficult. While some sports stars do have fans, many of these fans expect their favorite athletes to perform well at all times. If an athlete doesn’t play well, they often receive scorn from fans and the media.


Some pro athletes deal with criticism in healthy ways. After a bad performance, they might unplug from the internet and spend time with loved ones rather than read criticism from fans. However, others do not handle criticism and other negative aspects of fame well. In many instances, sports stars deal with psychological disorders caused by stress.




In recent years, many high-profile athletes have opened up about their struggles with mental illness. This list of athletes includes Michael Phelps, Steve Smith, Brandon Marshall and Kevin Love. Depression is a common illness among these individuals.


Some athletes experience depression for various reasons. They might endure a significant injury that keeps them from playing in a game, which can bring about depressive thoughts. They might also be dealing with depression caused by factors outside of sports, like relationship problems.




Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems in the United States. A number of athletes experience anxiety because of the pressure to perform well. They might also grapple with anxious feelings upon thinking about being released from or not making a team.


Brandon Brooks, a guard for the Philadelphia Eagles, has dealt with severe anxiety that has kept him from playing in games. The 335-pound football player told the New York Post that he has been criticized by fans for his mental illness, but his coaches told him to get the help he needs.


Bipolar Disorder


Some of the most famous athletes in the world have grappled with bipolar disorder, a mental health condition characterized by the presence of severe mood swings. Pro athletes who have reported experiencing bipolar disorder include golfer John Daly, former NFL player Quincy Carter and former NBA player Metta World Peace, whose former name was Ron Artest.


World Peace has talked about his bipolar disorder with several media outlets. His father had bipolar disorder, and World Peace grew up in an unstable home. He told the LA Times that his mental health problems have allowed him to learn more about himself.


Eating Disorders


Many athletes also deal with eating disorders. The NCAA recently conducted a survey indicating that more than 1 in 3 female collegiate athletes experienced symptoms of anorexia. However, pro athletes have also grappled with eating disorders.


Notably, Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Marjama talked about his past experiences with an eating disorder caused by reducing his food intake, overexercising and a cycle of eating and purging. He said that he wanted to open up about his eating disorder to show that athletes aren’t immune to problems faced by everyday Americans.


Post-traumatic Stress Disorder


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur after experiencing a traumatic event. Some pro athletes have dealt with PTSD resulting from a difficult childhood, like growing up in poverty, or from sustaining a severe injury.


Some athletes who tear their anterior cruciate ligament in the knee can recall how bright the lights in the stadium were while lying on the ground in pain immediately after the injury occurred. When they see stadium lights, they may remember the pain of the injury and experience tremendous anxiety.


Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder


Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that causes people to experience hyperactivity, impulsiveness and trouble focusing. Among the pro athletes who have experienced this disorder are Olympian Cammi Granato and baseball player Shane Victorino.


Terry Bradshaw, a Hall of Fame NFL player, struggled with a form of ADHD called attention deficit disorder (ADD) since childhood. He was teased by his peers because he struggled to read. However, the presence of this mental health disorder motivated him to excel as an athlete.




The United States is experiencing an opioid epidemic. Many Americans are struggling with addictions to painkillers, like heroin, OxyContin and Percocet. Opioid use can lead to drug addiction, a neurological disorder. Pro athletes are particularly vulnerable to opioid misuse.


Painkiller use is common today in sports leagues — particular in the NFL. Opioid misuse has run rampant in NFL locker rooms, and players like Brett Favre, Ryan Leaf and Travis Kelce have battled addictions to painkillers. According to a report by The Washington Post, the average NFL team dispensed more than 2,200 doses of controlled medications, like Vicodin, in 2012.


People of all backgrounds have dealt with a mental health disorder or addiction. If you’re struggling with co-occurring disorders, treatment can help you heal. The Recovery Village offers evidence-based treatment for people experiencing a substance use or psychological disorder. Contact The Recovery Village to learn more about the importance of treatment.


Topics: Think Deeper, Mental Health